Stalking creative design: Exhibit Columbus installation plants itself amid cornfield

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories about the five Miller Prize winners, which are among the main highlights for Exhibit Columbus opening Aug. 24 with 18 installations.

One of the latest Exhibit Columbus installations soon to be taking shape could be the stalk of the town.

And, with apologies to “Hee Haw,” it could turn Bartholomew County into a bit of Cornfield County right amid downtown Columbus.

Therein lie the rural ramifications of “Corn/Meal,” MASS Design Group’s literal 10,000-stalk cornfield to be planted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 on the east lawn of Central Middle School, 725 Seventh St., in downtown Columbus.

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Architect Caitlin Taylor, who also operates an organic vegetable and cut-flower farm in Connecticut, is expecting help from about 30 to 40 volunteers to plant seeds by hand, per a crew’s instructions.

This installation is one of the four Miller Prize efforts with a heavy, plant-oriented, back-to-nature focus.

“I’ve received a lot of wonderful, enthusiastic feedback,” Taylor said, speaking from her office in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Tentative plans for the cornfield, to be nurtured in a 100-foot-by 150-foot area, include a clearing space in the middle to have a Central school meal soon after the new academic year begins. Plus, MASS Design Group architects mentioned that the site could play host to even a mini-Halloween corn maze in October, according to organizers.

The cornfield is meant to offer something of an education about food production and its importance, since MASS’ original presentation included the concept that 50 percent of the habitable surface of the planet is dedicated to food production, according to figures at ourworldindata.org, an agricultural website. That makes it the world’s largest industry.

Locally, 28 percent of Bartholomew County’s surface area is used for corn production, according to MASS.

The Exhibit Columbus exhibition will run Aug. 24 to Dec. 1. The free event, held every other year, focuses on art, architecture and design, and uses new, pop-up installations to highlight existing structures and landscapes in a city known globally for its Modernist legacy.

Anne Surak, Exhibit Columbus’ director of exhibitions, reiterated that the local staff did nothing to influence the Miller Prize design teams toward a rural theme. And she mentioned she sees the rural-urban mix as an interesting one.

“Even though there are a lot of cornfields around Columbus, they’re still not something you would naturally think of in a urban environment,” Surak said. “And I think when you can call attention to something (like food production) by putting it in the middle of the city, it just causes you to notice it and to understand it in a different way.”

MASS design architects surmise that, despite food production’s significant connection in today’s world, “Our cultural, spiritual, and historical connection to how we cook and what we eat continues to dissociate,” they wrote in their installation overview. This project puts one example of food production — and one of the state’s biggest examples of such — right in front of people on a daily basis.

“The really exciting part of this for me is to be able to work within the context of Columbus, where the community is so engaged in design as a matter of course,” Taylor said. “And it’s so inspiring to see that Exhibit Columbus has taken on such a big role in the community — and that people really come together to help make these installations happen.”

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What: MASS Design Group of Boston, Massachusetts’ corn seed planting for its 10,000-stalk Miller Prize installation Corn/Meal on the east side of the Central Middle School lawn at 725 Seventh St. in downtown Columbus.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8. Any rescheduling because of inclement weather will be posted on therepublic.com website.

Why: To highlight the importance of food production, and how people today often overlook its importance.

Information: exhibitcolumbus.org

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The Exhibit Columbus exhibition is a once-every-two-years display of a wide variety temporary architectural installations meant to highlight or somehow connect to nearby, permanent structures and buildings in Columbus.

The exhibition is set for Aug. 24 to Dec. 1 and is an exploration of art, architecture, and design.

Exhibit Columbus seeks to celebrate Columbus’ heritage while making it relevant in new and modern ways, according to organizers. It is the signature project of Landmark Columbus, which was created in 2015 to care for the design heritage of Columbus, and is under the umbrella of The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

To learn more, visit exhibitcolumbus.org

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